PG-13, 91 min.
Theatrical release date: 1/14/2000
Screenplay by David Campbell Wilson
Story by William Malone and Daniel Chuba
Produced by Daniel Chuba, Jamie Dixon, Ash R. Shah
Directed by Thomas Lee (Walter Hill going the Alan Smithee route)
Cast includes: James Spader (Nick Vanzant), Angela Bassett (Kaela Evers), Robert Forster (A.J. Marley), Lou Diamond Phillips (Yerzy Penalosa), Peter Facinelli (Troy Larson), Robin Tunney (Danika Lund), Wilson Cruz (Benj Sotomejor)
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Supernova is perhaps the most banal of the recent genre examples concerning the tried-and-true formula where a group of characters are placed on a starship and sent out to who-knows-where for who-knows-what-purpose. While on their mission of the unknown, the crew finds something mysterious (or not so mysterious, as it turns out in this case) that will put the entire ship and crew (and maybe universe?) in jeopardy.
What in the world is this movie about? Personally, I'm inclined to call it 2000's version of 1997's Event Horizon (itself a derivative movie), where a crew is left out alone in space primarily so they can be killed one by one. I didn't much like Event Horizon, which made very little sense and had a painfully weak ending fraught with potboiler excess. Supernova, however, makes Event Horizon look like a masterpiece.
Supernova isn't simply a recycling of predictable sci-fi genre cliches; it's also a very badly executed movie that lacks any sense of coherence, drama, suspense, or competence. Scene after scene is documented with detached disinterest, and the characters are barely permitted any depth beyond the basic sketches required for the (lame) plotline.
That plot? The crew of a medical rescue vessel receives a distress call from a distant mining colony where Something Bad Has Happened. The jump to warp speed (I believe this movie instead calls it "dimensional jump" or something along those lines) takes them within reach of the colony, but not before an accident during the flight nearly cripples the ship.
Naturally, it's up to ace pilot Nick Vanzant (James Spader) to keep the ship from spiraling down toward a planet to its doom. Nick is of course an ex-con recovering from a drug addiction. This character trait keeps him in line with the tradition that any brash, independent ace pilot who saves the day is an ex-con, outcast, or renegade.
Angela Bassett plays the ship's chief surgeon, who carries most of the film's emotional baggage as the victimized ex-lover of one of the men now present at the distressed mining colony. Bassett's former relationship was apparently a very painful one, due in part to her ex-lover's abuse of the same drug to which Spader's character also had once been addicted.
After some brief friction, Spader and Bassett have a romantic liaison early in the film that is so swift, vague, and awkwardly handled that for a time it doesn't even seem clear if it actually happened. The reasoning behind it is even more vague; the characters in this movie are so weakly defined that we haven't a clue about their feelings or motivations. The Spader/Bassett relationship makes absolutely no sense at all, but that's okay, I guess, since the rest of the film barely acknowledges it.
Robert Forster has third-billing in the credits, as the ship's captain, but he only gets about half a dozen lines before the accident during the dimensional jump fuses his body with a big piece of glass. Also comprising the supporting cast are Lou Diamond Phillips and Robin Tunney, whose characters are lovers; and Wilson Cruz, who seems more in love with making the ship's computer grow into a learning intelligence.
The "mystery" arises when the crew discovers a colony survivor (Peter Facinelli) who appears to be the son of Bassett's ex-lover. The crew also finds an (alien?) artifact in his shuttle, which is strange and apparently wondrous, though the purpose of the effect it has on those who touch it is never clear. (In any case, it's never really interesting either.) I won't reveal what it does, but the device turns out to be something made up of "nine-dimensional matter," a characteristic which seems tacked on to lend the movie some sort of counterfeit scientific cool-factor.
The movie starts off with slow tedium, and as mysteries are uncovered, the exercises become painfully predictable, growing from tedious to bad, and from bad to worse. Eventually we're treated to a crazed bad guy laughing and reciting lame-brained Intimidating Villain Lines. The plot is filled with plenty of illogic, and revelations that display a woeful lack of the ingenuity necessary to make them the least bit interesting.
For a would-be sci-fi thriller, there's a fair amount of sex in the movie — which is supposed to link into the characters' problems, I think, but little of it has any believable motivation behind it. An encounter between the Tunney and Facinelli characters is particularly dubious. And I kept trying to figure out why most of the sex took place in a zero-gravity room. Is doing it in zero gravity the preferred method of choice in the future?
Among the film's biggest annoyances is the non-stop use of the ship's computer voice as an instrument to blandly drive the plot forward. I'd be willing to bet the computer has nearly half the movie's dialogue. The computer seems to have been programmed to give the audience information on cue, which in many cases is completely unnecessary. In many other cases, the filmmakers should've found another way — any other way — to give us the information, because this method is positively distracting and dramatically shoddy. I was expecting the endlessly verbose computer to be listed in the credits as the Plot Explainer For Dumb People.
The movie continues its descent with every scene. There's not a shred of original sci-fi imagination to be found in the entire film, which at only 90 minutes feels long. The ending is so cornball-bad that it's actually laugh-out-loud laughable. The closing minute plays like unintended comedy.
Supernova has a screenplay so clueless about its ideas that at one point the computer voice explains that a chain reaction of exploding stars will reach Earth in 51 years, at which point either "it will destroy Earth, or bring about a dawn of new human existence." Gee, thanks for clarifying.